There’s not much left to say about Virginia Senator George Allen and the strange twists in his reelection campaign. Already smarting from his use of an ethnic slur against a Democratic campaign aide, Allen was flummoxed this week when a journalist asked him about a recent Forward report that his mother was of Jewish origin. The reporter’s question seemed relevant in part because, as she noted, the senator had previously denied his mother was anything but Christian. The point, she said, was honesty. Allen’s response was to fly into a rage and accuse the reporter of casting “aspersions.” A media frenzy ensued, escalating the next day when Allen admitted that his mother was indeed of Jewish origin, and that he had known about it since the Forward article appeared in August.
We’ve argued before that the religious background of a political candidate shouldn’t affect voters’ decisions, except when it teaches us something specific about the candidate’s likely choices. This newspaper follows these things mainly because of what they teach about the larger progress of Jews in American society. One thing we’ve learned is that Jews have made many choices in the past century, including abandoning Judaism as a way to survive. We’ve seen a steady stream of public figures — Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, Tom Stoppard — confronted as adults with the hidden truth of their origins, and forced to absorb it in the glare of public attention. Most respond with thoughtfulness and grace. Allen responded with bluster and lies. That surely teaches us something.